Around the turn of the 20th century, during a harsh northern California winter, members of a ranching family are squabbling among themselves while the two oldest sons go hunting for a panther that is killing their livestock.
A boy haunted by nightmares about the night his entire family was murdered is brought up by a neighboring family in the 1880s. He falls for his lovely adoptive sister but his nasty adoptive brother and mysterious uncle want him dead.
Blaise Starrett is a rancher at odds with homesteaders when outlaws hold up the small town. The outlaws are held in check only by their notorious leader, but he is diagnosed with a fatal wound and the town is a powder keg waiting to blow.
A family saga: In a stunning mountain valley ranch setting near Aspen, complex and dangerous family dynamics play out against the backdrop of the first big snowstorm of winter and an enormous panther with seemingly mythical qualities which is killing cattle. An arrogant, pitiless son (Robert Mitchum) and a rigid pharisaic mother side against a moral eldest son and and a defeated alcoholic father while the youngest son tries to lay low, hoping against hope to persuade his family to allow him to marry a girl he has brought to visit. The girl however draws venomous condemnation and the two elder brothers set out in the midst of a violent snowstorm on a dangerous mission to kill the deadly panther.Written by
They say the story takes place in Aspen Colorado but when they talk about the local area they are speaking of Pyramid lake ,the Fremont expedition and Placerville witch all of them are in California. See more »
I liked "Track of the Cat" as a "psychological western" and also thought it could be produced as a stage play. The term "painter" is the way pioneers pronounced the word "panther," as I learned in my Indiana History class. The characters in the story view the cat itself as a supernatural and eternal creature that brings evil, death, and sorrow to the innocence of the valley.
I found Joe Sam, the 100-year-old Indian portrayed by Alfalfa Switzer, interesting, mysterious, and downright spooky. Drawing on Native American wisdom and folklore, Joe Sam said the panther always came with the first snow, and he implied the panther was an evil spirit or creature that could not die. As the story progresses, the viewer develops mixed feelings about the old Indian's beliefs, as do the members of the Bridge family. Actually, there is a rational explanation for the panther's arrival in the valley: the cattle, deer, and other game had moved into the valley to search for food and water when the snowfall began. Then the panther, which preyed on such animals, followed them. The old Indian, however, expressed his belief in the panther's immortality when he claimed the "same" panther had killed his wife and daughter during a first snow many years ago.
I believe the Indian himself symbolizes the conflicts between (1) life and death (2) the eternal and the temporal, (3) the spiritual world and the physical world, and (4) superstition and rational thought. The Bridge brothers stated the old Indian had been a survivor of a battle between settlers and Indians at least 60 years earlier and that all of the Indian's grown sons had been killed in the battle. They estimated the old Indian was at least 40 when his sons died, so that he had to be over 100 years of age. The old Indian's spryness and ability to lift bodies and heavy objects lead the viewer to believe the Indian himself is eternal.
The tragic loss of the old Indian's family foreshadows the likelihood the Bridge family also will die out. Mrs. Bridge, the overly controlling mother, has run off all the marriage prospects her grown children have had, and the brothers fear their generation will not marry and have children. The last marriage prospect is the neighbor Gwen, in whom all the brothers have some interest. However, Mrs. Bridge has met her match as Gwen is determined to marry Harold. In the end, life and love triumph over death when Gwen and Harold decide to leave the ranch, get married, and move to Aspen, the symbol of civilization.
Mr. Bridge, the alcoholic father, is a sympathetic and comical character throughout the film, retrieving his whiskey bottles from assorted hiding places throughout the house. From his accent I judge him to be an Irish immigrant from a large city in the U.S. Toward the end of the film, Mrs. Bridge finally admits she had persuaded her husband to move to the isolated ranch where he had felt like a "fish out of water" and had taken to drinking. In the end she does admit to being a catalyst for the dysfunction in the family and accepts Harold's wanting to get married and leave the ranch for Aspen.
In the scene where Curt (Robert Mitchum) has the fire go out, I am reminded of "To Build a Fire" by Jack London. There is a sort of naturalism in this scene and throughout the film with its man vs. nature theme. I would recommend this film as a very different sort of western.
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